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When I left private practice in 1993 to become city attorney in Torrance, the scene I inherited left much to be desired. The office lacked a cohesive information management strategy, had no computerized calendaring system and was hard-pressed to locate documents created by its own attorneys. I half-jokingly referred to the office as “18 employees and 19 typewriters.” For an office purportedly devoted to practicing law, relatively little legal work was getting done. Due to inefficiencies and outdated automation, we were forced to send about 75 percent of our cases to outside counsel, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. I began to suspect that among plaintiffs’ attorneys Torrance was viewed as a relatively easy mark, incapable of effectively defending itself against even patently frivolous lawsuits. Determined to transform the situation, in 1999 we established clear objectives t • Access work products quickly. • Electronically link all documents to their respective matters. • Automate docketing to ensure that critical court deadlines were not missed. • Search across individual matter files. • Reduce duplicate data entry. • Eliminate the need to rely on client departments’ files. • Develop full text search capabilities. • Reduce hard-copy storage. • Produce meaningful reports for meetings. • Enhance staff efficiency and accuracy. First, the office’s case matter management system – an inflexible, DOS-based application – had to go. We were missing critical court deadlines, not finding needed documents and doing a great deal of duplicate data entry. The system was not Y2K-compliant, documents could not be tied to a case and data could not be reported on because it was not stored in an industry-standard relational database. In-house customized reports were out of the question. With the help of law office administrator Linda Santos, we developed a comprehensive matrix of desired features and set out to evaluate potential vendors. Criteria included: • Integration with iManage Inc.’s document management software, CompuLaw Inc.’s court rules and calendaring software, Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook and Office suite and other software. • Imaging capability. • Document assembly. • Customized report-writing. • Support for industry-standard databases such as Microsoft’s SQL. • A mature product. • Solid references. • Vendors who would listen to input for product improvements. • Great technical support. Integration was the key. We were looking for the right combination of features, all tied together in one system. We realized that the case matter management system would be the primary program among our applications and that its ability to work with other components was critical. Five products made our short list: Cycom Data System Inc.’s CityLaw, Gavel & Gown Software Inc.’s Amicus Attorney, West’s ProLaw, Synaptec Software Inc.’s LawBase and CLS/Summit from Computer Law Systems Inc. We choose CLS/Summit. A key factor was the customization options offered by CLS/Summit to address the specific needs of the various practice areas within the city attorney’s office and its ability to integrate with Microsoft Outlook, the city’s standard calendar/appointment software. Kevin Tran, our IT analyst, and Santos decided to improve the office’s infrastructure before tackling the CLS/Summit installation. As part of our upgrade to our existing criminal prosecution software, Tran installed a Microsoft SQL database server, upgraded network bandwidth from 10 megabytes to 100 megabytes and ramped up the memory of all of our PCs. We added a Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge 2300 server, uninterruptible power supply from American Power Conversion Corp., backup drives from Quantum Corp. and Hewlett Packard LaserJet network printers. The $53,000 budget for the upgrade of the office’s infrastructure, including the purchase of the document and case matter management system, was the result of a one-time capital project budget request. We phased in the rollout. The civil litigation staff was first, in January 2001. From there we added practice areas, gradually converting the entire office. For training, CLS recommended a “train-the-trainer” approach. CLS project manager Shelly Peterson educated Santos and Tran on all facets of CLS/Summit. We keep training. During our weekly staff meetings, it has become standard practice to present a “tip of the week” on an electronic white board connected to a network laptop and LCD projector. Over time these tips have not only provided insight into how best to use the system but have also helped us standardize our practices. The technology upgrade has even changed the role of secretaries in our office by integrating them into practice teams. It’s not uncommon for a secretary to notice that a particular filing needs to be made by Friday, walk up to the appropriate attorney and say, “I’ve roughed out a draft of interrogatories. What do you want to add?” Another huge project was our imaging project. In August, we rolled out RightFax from Captaris, Canon imageRunner 5000 and eCopy Inc.’s document management products. They all integrate with our document and case management system. Today, the city attorney’s office has 15 employees: seven attorneys, six legal secretaries, an IT analyst and a law office administrator. We have four networked locations and four divisions: administration, civil litigation, criminal prosecution and general advice. The transformation of our office could not have come at a better time. Los Angeles County courts have initiated “Fast-Track,” designed to move 90 percent of cases to trial within one year. It puts considerable pressure on attorneys, whose cases historically had a five-year window. Being on top of our caseload allows us to be more aggressive in our practice. Not only have we reduced the time to resolve cases, we’re getting better results in those cases. Gone are the days when our staff had difficulty finding their own work product. We’re so much better organized than the average plaintiff’s office. We are controlling the flow of litigation. If opposing counsel needs to respond to a discovery request by a certain date, when that day passes we’re on the phone at 9 a.m. the next morning asking, “Need more time?” We’re always professional, but our technology-enhanced diligence puts enormous pressure on opposing counsel. Marginal cases are quickly resolved. More serious cases are also more readily resolved because we’re not patsies anymore. John Fellows is city attorney of Torrance, Calif. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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